Scottish Independence: Putting your own oxygen mask on before helping others?

At the end of May I returned from a week in Scotland on the Newcastle to Amsterdam ferry. By coincidence it was exactly 15 years to the day after I took the same ferry to begin a new life in the Netherlands. Post-independence referendum and post-UK General Election (in which the Scottish National Party gained 56 of the 59 Scottish seats) there is a definite change in the country I grew up in and last visited in 2012. A little prouder (in a good way) and more self-certain perhaps. The issues of whether Europe needs yet another country, whether it’s all about nationalism and hating the English, and whether the Scots would be a few pounds better or worse off was all rendered surprisingly clear.

saltireThe backgrounds of the people I met that supported independence were diverse. “Immigrants” (from EU and other parts of Britain), taxi drivers, company directors, paramedics, blacksmiths, lecturers, designers, engineers, shop assistants, but they all had one thing in common: the belief that the Westminster based politics is corrupt, unfair and unsustainable. And it will need a massive shock such as Scotland leaving to instigate change. The lack of investment in home-grown business and infrastructure, and the indefinite austerity that is hitting the weakest and most vulnerable cannot persist without grave repercussions for the fabric of British society. The people of Scotland for the most part appear to be highly politically attuned. They are hugely sceptical of the trickle down economic model and have no doubts that there is a massive shift of wealth from the poor and middle class to the wealthiest percentile.

As an engineer I have strong views on access to high quality education. In England many young people are already in debt to the tune of £40K by the time they have a three year Bachelors and are 21 years old. Meanwhile their Scottish based counterparts have paid no fees whatsoever (by the way things like medical prescriptions and bridge tolls are also free in Scotland). Such personal debt greatly controls subsequent opportunities and decision making, restricting the paths that are open to us (e.g. how readily would you quit a job if the employer locked you in by funding your studies?). Furthermore I believe investment in important research areas such as renewable energy is lacking in the UK. The threat of the UK exiting the EU should also be a cause for concern: loss of EU funding and collaboration, restrictions on the free movement of knowledge workers, impact on international trade, a likely exodus of multinationals, and possible repercussions for European stability and peace.

Last year a professor from England working at St. Andrews University succinctly said on Radio 4: “I would have liked to have saved the whole UK but I will settle for saving a little part of it.”

I actually believe that an independent Scotland would quickly bring about a change in the rest of the UK. One would hope regional assemblies would better address the needs of areas outside the Southeast and that following Scotland’s example a more progressive and liberal politics can take a foothold.  To expect this to happen without Scotland’s exit is naïve.